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No simple stereotype of Taiwan’s young people

Taiwan’s twenty somethings have long been known for being self-centered, reluctant to engage in hard work and short on employment loyalty. This generation has been nicknamed the “strawberry generation” for their characteristics of being easily “bruised” and for their lack of resilience.

The term was originally coined in 1993 by Christina Ongg, the chairperson of Career Consulting Co. to describe the great care parents took with children born in the 1960s and 1970s. Later the phrase took on a more negative connotation.

The ‘cared-free’ generation

In 2011, Wealth magazine and 104 Job Bank, the largest job website on the island, tried to redefine Taiwan’s youth (in their 20s) as the “cared-free” generation. In a survey conducted by 104 Job Bank, 47.5 percent of the respondents chose happiness over other objectives, including family and health, as the ultimate goal in life.

Serena Chen, a manager with 104 Job Bank said, “We found the ‘cared-free’ generation made decisions mostly based on their feelings, including their job choices. ‘Cared’ means they have been extensively cared for, but ‘free’ means they love having lots of personal freedom.”

Regis Chen, 104 Job Bank’s marketing director, said young people are very self-focused, which can be interpreted as either being selfish, or more positively, as being more willing to express themselves. The study found that the younger generation’s selfishness can be reflected in their willingness to live with their parents before marriage in order to save on expenses, while the older generation cites the reason for them to stay with their parents as being to take care of family members.

More competitive and less optimistic

Ongg told Taiwan Review that for today’s youths, aged 18-30, “mass-produced cherry tomatoes” is a better phrase than “strawberry,” as “they appear to have fewer distinguishing personal characters” due to the changes in the education system over the past decade, where so many universities were created to give a general education rather than specific workplace skills.

According to the Ministry of Education, out of Taiwan’s total population of 23.1 million, nearly 2.9 million people over the age of 15 had earned a bachelor’s degree by 2010. This figure is almost three times the 1.1 million from just 10 years earlier. Regis Chen noted the prevalence of people with tertiary degrees, which makes the job market much more competitive.

Other polls have shown that younger members of the strawberry generation lack confidence in their future. According to an online survey conducted in 2011 by Pollster Technology Marketing Ltd., of nearly 1,100 respondents aged 18 to 30, over 50 percent responded “unlikely” or “very unlikely” when asked about their chances of success in the next 20 years. Part of that despondency is career-related, as Ongg estimated that about 80 percent of those in that age bracket agonize over finding a profession that suits them.

Careers are less imperative

Taiwan’s younger generation is far from monolithic, however, and some members are much less concerned about careers. Wu Chih-in, a research fellow in the Institute of Sociology at Academia Sinica, Taiwan’s top research institute, said that the country’s economic development means that today’s young people are able to draw on greater financial resources, making a career less imperative. ”They don’t have to feed a family. If they lose their jobs, they can still survive by going home to live with their parents.”

Their parents provide them with everything they need as soon as they ask, or even before they ask for it. Over time, such young people start to see no reason to make an effort when they can get everything without trying. Likewise, they see no logic in moving out and paying rent, or in taking on work pressures for a job earning a salary of NT$20,000 (US$667) a month, reported Taiwan Review.

Despite the difficulties faced by today’s youth, Regis Chen believes they have the potential to be just as successful as their forebears. “They are better-rounded than any of the older generations and far more creative.”

No one-size-fits-all stereotypes

The key to motivating youngsters to commit to their works is to create an environment with which they can identify. When they do, they will be willing to take on a heavy workload. Huang Jian-teng, a full time employee and management trainee at a Family Mart convenience store in Taipei, is such an example.

After a 9-hour graveyard shift, he stays to restacks plastic storage bins he sees carelessly thrown on the floor on his way out. Though officially off duty, he said, “I want to see the business thrive from our efforts and I’m also learning how to run a store well.” He added, money is not the first priority for his generation and that he would keep working for an organization as long as he sees a positive outlook for the job.

When talking about members of the strawberry generation, two very different pictures emerge. The first is that they are self-centered, weak and reluctant to engage in hard work. The second is that they are creative, passionate and willing to work hard for the things they believe in. So which description, if either, is accurate? As always, it depends on whom one asks, reported Taiwan Review.

Psychologist Huang Hsin-yi believes that attempting to define individuals according to perceived characteristics of their age group is an overly simplistic approach. He said “I personally won’t use a specific name to label a generation because I think all generations produce both hard-working and lazy people.”

Taiwan’s private investment grows to 45-year high

Nobody would have predicted that in 2010 Taiwan’s economy would out-perform even the most optimistic economic forecasts to achieve the highest growth rate in 21 years, Commonwealth magazine reported. Kuan Chung-ming, an economist and a research fellow at Academia Sinica, believes that by any measure, from quantitative economic indicators to simply observing activity in neighborhood shopping districts, real prosperity has returned.

Noticeable recovery

Taiwan’s Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS) has forecast that private consumption in 2011 will grow 3.51 percent, which would be the highest growth for the second year in a row since the credit bubble burst in the mid-2000s. Wholesale, retail, and catering sector spending have gradually risen, and outbound travelers and credit card spending have also seen substantial growth.

Commonwealth reported, Taiwan residents took 8 million trips abroad in the first 10 months of 2010, an increase of 18 percent from the previous year, according to the Tourism Bureau. With sharp increases in inbound tourists from China and Southeast Asia, arrivals to Taiwan exceeded 5 million in 2010 for the first time ever. An estimated 1.5 million Chinese nationals are forecast to visit Taiwan in 2011, and the DGBAS estimates they will pump NT$60 billion (US$2.05 billion) into the economy, based on an average of 3,500 visitors per day.

Other positive indicators came from the changing labor market of Taiwan’s biggest online employment agency, 104 Job Bank, whose revenues depend largely on enterprises posting job openings on their site. The site experienced a 30 percent growth rate in the first three quarters of 2010. Also, average salaries rose to a record high of NT$45,000 (US$1,500) per month in the first 10 months of 2010, a 5.9 percent increase.

Infusion of ready cash

In the private-sector, the NT$2.2 trillion (US$73.3 billion) worth of investments from the past year were divided between small-scale private-sector investments and major investment projects under the supervision of the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) – each accounting for roughly half the total. SinoPac Securities lead economist Huang Yin-chi admitted that the development in 2010 which surprised him the most was the rapid growth in private-sector investment.

Commonwealth reported that Barings Asset Management, BNP Paribas, Nomura Securities and about a dozen other venture capital and privately offered funds are now taking a broad look around at whoever is willing to accept their financing for joint expansion and eventual forays into China. Among them, Barings alone has some US$4.5 billion in capital that could be pumped into Taiwan.

For 2011, Barings Asian investment consultant Wang Gui-ching will be seeking opportunities in Taiwan’s service and agricultural sectors. For example, Wang has been making numerous trips to aquaculture operations in Pingtung County to consider investments in the high-end niche of grouper husbandry, purchasing Taiwanese immunization technology in the hope of using international capital and Taiwanese management skills and technology to break into the Chinese market.

Government spending spree

In recent years, the government has been the “the big boss” in supplying the economic boost needed in Taiwan’s economy. In the current government budget, infrastructure alone has reached NT$700 billion (US$23.3 billion), with government funding of NT$500 billion and the other NT$200 billion coming from private entities. This is up from 2010 where the total budget was NT$600 billion. In addition, NT$3 billion will be spent on the celebrations for the 100th anniversary of the Republic of China.

With big budget government spending in two consecutive years, funding will be limited in 2011 with limitations on government borrowing capability and administrative procedures. Though, these two issues could also be business opportunities, according to Commonwealth. First, due to limited funding, the government will be more willing to lower the bidding premium of joint development and operations in order to attract more private funds into public works, thus reducing Taipei’s financial burden. Second, with the administrative process of the combined trillion-dollar construction budgets for the previous two years complete, many big projects will break ground in 2011, and thus a variety of subcontractor works will also begin.

The joint investment in infrastructure by private funds is not limited to Taiwanese businesses. Foreign capital is also welcome. Christina Liu, chairperson of the Council for Economic Planning and Development, emphasizes that for the coming year, “Taiwan has changed.” The biggest difference is the implementation of the FTA-like Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with China.

Taiwan has changed with ECFA

According to Commonwealth, should cross-strait negotiations precede smoothly, the world’s top two automakers, Germany’s Volkswagen and Japan’s Toyota, may set up plants in Taiwan in 2011. In particular, Toyota, which is under pressure due to the appreciation of the Japanese yen, plans to relocate one-third of its production capacity offshore. If Taiwan can negotiate zero import tariffs on finished vehicles, it would mark a return of manufacturing to the island.

ECFA is also bringing Chinese investment capital into Taiwan. As of last November, Chinese investment capital funded 101 investment projects in Taiwan, valued at NT$4 billion (US$133 million). In the coming year, even bigger players in banking, restaurants and other sectors, are poised to move in. However, high-tech industries, the major driver of Taiwan’s past economic growth, are likely to have a rougher path over the coming year.

The primary reason export industries will be unable to sustain major expansion in production is that global demand has not yet returned to 2008 levels, and can only be expected to do so later in 2011 at the earliest, says Yang Jia-yan, Taiwan Institute of Economic Research. Overall, Yang predicts 2011 will be a big year of mergers and acquisitions in the manufacturing sector.

According to the United Daily News, Liu said Taiwan’s private investment grew 31.9 percent in 2010, the highest growth in 44 years and also the top among the four Asian Tigers. Statistically, Taiwan’s income distribution was also better than in the United States and Singapore.

Liu noted that the domestic unemployment rate was also greatly improved. The employment numbers in November 2010 were 10.06 million, a substantial achievement compared with an average employment figure of 9.79 million from the 2001 to 2007.